UNCTAD hails International Year of Small Island Developing States, urges more effective steps in their favour

21 February 2014

Small island developing States (SIDS) need international support more than ever in their efforts to build resilient economies, UNCTAD said in the run-up to a high-level UN conference that will tackle vulnerability issues later this year.

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The UN’s International Year of Small Island Developing States in New York kicks off on Monday, 24 February, alongside preparatory meetings for the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States, which will be held in Samoa in September.

The specific challenges facing small island developing States result from their limited size, remoteness from large markets, and vulnerability to economic and natural shocks.

“This year offers a unique opportunity to recognize SIDS status,” said UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi.

“UNCTAD welcomes the sustainable development of SIDS through genuine and durable partnerships. The most ‘genuine’ form of partnership in favour of SIDS would be the recognition by development partners of the validity of SIDS status. This is a natural avenue to enacting international support measures that tackle the specific obstacles SIDS face,” Dr. Kituyi added.

Dr. Kituyi also noted that the Third International Conference on SIDS takes place during the same month that the UN General Assembly will deliberate on the sustainable development agenda beyond 2015 – an agenda that should take into account the special vulnerabilities of small island developing States.

UNCTAD, which has pioneered special attention to these countries for 40 years, is responding to the call of UN Member States for special efforts “to address the vulnerabilities of SIDS more effectively” in accordance with two important UN resolutions adopted in 2010 and 2011(1).

UNCTAD research has shown that SIDS are 30 per cent more economically vulnerable than developing countries that are not SIDS. One of the paramount development objectives of SIDS is to give their resilience-building efforts the best possible chances for success. To be effective in countries with limited human and natural capacities, such as SIDS, these efforts require differentiated, special international support.

Such support is deemed particularly important in the quest for economic diversification, environmental resilience-building, and efficient risk management. These fields of action imply measures to reduce the exposure of islands to external shocks beyond domestic control, one of the main challenges most SIDS face.

UNCTAD advocates two critical UN-wide steps in the context of the International Year of SIDS: (i) building consensus on a small number of special international support measures that could be reserved for SIDS; and (ii) establishing a genuine “SIDS status” (based on agreed-upon criteria and a definition of SIDS), so that potential development partners are able to know precisely which nations they should support(2).

The UN General Assembly has also underlined “the urgency of finding additional solutions to the major challenges facing” small island developing States. UNCTAD subscribes to this spirit of urgency and corroborates the need for a breakthrough in the international approach to the long-lasting challenges SIDS have had to cope with in their efforts to avoid total marginalization from the global economy.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is due to address the launch of the International Year of SIDS in New York on Monday between 10 a.m. and 11.30 a.m. EST, where he is expected to repeat a call he made earlier to raise the profile of the specific challenges facing SIDS.

“Many of your countries are isolated. Your markets are too small to realize economies of scale. All small island developing States are exposed to high risks from environmental threats, especially climate change,” Mr. Ban told a meeting of delegates from SIDS last September to raise the visibility of the upcoming conference.

The launch event will also be addressed by Ambassador John Ashe, President of the General Assembly, and Mr. Wu Hongbo, Secretary-General of the Third International Conference on SIDS. Heads of State or Government and Ministers of foreign affairs of several SIDS are also expected to speak, while performers from various islands will put on a show. The launch will be streamed by UNTV online.

Previous global conferences on SIDS were held in Barbados in 1994 and Mauritius in 2005.

(1) In resolutions A/65/2 and E/2011/44, adopted in September 2010 and December 2011, respectively, the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council, in identical terms, called for an unprecedented effort to "consider what improved and additional measures might be needed to more effectively address the unique and particular vulnerabilities and development needs of small island developing states".
(2) UNCTAD's list of SIDS (for analytical purposes): Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Cape Verde, Comoros, Dominica, Fiji, Grenada, Jamaica, Kiribati, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Micronesia (Federated States of), Mauritius, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Vanuatu.